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Grey willow

Braided River Status

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Grey willow (Salix cinerea), also know as pussy willow (because of its flowers, see below) and grey sallow, grey willow is a deciduous shrub or small tree that can grow to 7m tall. It spreads by seed or by suckering from the roots. Plants are either male or female. Leaves are 20-70 x 15-35mm, and are oval and serrated. The topsides of the leaves are shiny while the undersides are grey-blue with dense soft grey hairs. Erect cylindrical catkins (15-35mm long) are produced from September to October before the leaves appear. Seed capsules are bivalved and contain many seeds that have fluffy outgrowths and are dispersed by wind.

Grey willow

Grey willow leaves

Why is it a problem?

  • While not as common as crack willow, grey willow is also tolerant of flooding, can grow in a wide range of temperatures, and in semi-shaded areas
  • Replaces native species along waterways 
  • Stabilises braided river gravels, preventing the natural re-shaping of channels during freshes, changing the  structure and flow of waterways and creating an environment unsuited to endemic river birds, reptiles, and plants
  • Absorbs so much water that river levels can drop and disappear altogether in places
Grey willow flower photo by M. Sich

Grey willow flower

How is it spread?

  • Even the smallest stem fragments can take root anywhere that’s damp, and are readily spread downstream
  • Root suckers spread locally
  • Cut stumps regrow rapidly
  • Planted intentionally on stream and river banks to stabilise banks and in damp places, to absorb water
  • As an ornamental plant

Conservation activities

More information